Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Federal Budget 2013 – experts respond

By AusSMC

Experts address how the latest announcements will impact on science, the Murray Darling Basin and the Great Barrier Reef.

General comments on science research and science education spending

“While the Academy welcomes investments in research grant funding and research infrastructure, this Budget unfortunately represents a missed opportunity to support a strategic long-term vision for Australia’s future. The investment has been small and short-term in the same year in which the Government has announced $3.3 billion in cuts and deferrals to research and higher education.

The Academy will always welcome strong support for schools, but a world-class education does not end at the age of 18. We must invest in tertiary education and R&D over the long term to create high quality jobs, attract and retain leading researchers, and yield meaningful results to secure our economic, environmental and social wellbeing.”

Professor Suzanne Cory is President of the Australian Academy of Science

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"It is pleasing to the see the Government has recognised the importance of both the mid-career fellowships offered by the Australian Research Council and big infrastructure, with funding to operate and maintain critical projects.

However these measures come in addition to the very damaging $3.8 billion in university cuts. The exact impacts are not yet known, as universities struggle to slash their budgets, but one thing is certain - the cuts will do real damage to Australia's science and technology workforce and to national productivity and innovation.

They will compromise the capacity of the nation to match it with the best - to keep pace with international advances in science and technology.

The cuts will damage the quality of education and research universities can provide. This is bad for students, researchers and the communities they serve.
Private sector knock-on effects will also result, with at the very least damage to the kind of collaborative work that tackles critical national and global issues.

STA welcomes the one additional year of support for the ARC's Future Fellowships, with around 150 five-year grants, worth $135 million available in 2014. But a longer term restoration must be seriously considered if we are to keep the nation's outstanding mid-career researchers living and working in Australia.

Also $185 million will go to fund two more years of support for major national research facilities, without which much cutting edge research simply cannot take place. The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme ended in 2011, leaving many huge projects in limbo. It is difficult to overstate how important sustained backing for these landmark facilities is. Without a long-term plan, up to $1 billion of Government investment is at risk."

Catriona Jackson, CEO, Science and Technology Australia

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On the Murray Darling Basin

“The aim of increasing environmental flows to the Murray-Darling Basin is appropriate, but the amount is too small and the policy mechanism is questionable. The proposal is to increase the amount returned from 2,750GL to 3,200GL. The optimum amount to return is probably more like 4,500 GL, and some environmental groups want more than 7,000GL. Moreover, the means proposed by the government to achieve additional environmental flows are sub-optimal. Economic research for the Murray-Darling Basin has shown that it is much more efficient to use water pricing and buyback than direct actions such as the envisaged improvements in irrigation efficiency.”

Prof Kevin A Parton, Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University
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“The suspension of the Restoring the Balance (RtB) Program (or purchase of water entitlements from willing sellers) locks the water recovery into the least efficient mechanism for water recovery. The capital program not only costs more per ML but it has two nasty surprises for the long term survival of irrigators.

First, the increased expenditure on capital infrastructure works will lock irrigators into paying more to maintain their fixed costs and variable costs to access water. Under drought, being required to pay money for water that cannot be delivered is like an oxymoron.

Second, assuming that all water for the environment came from on-farm water savings then 1.6 million Ha would have to be transformed (1,600,000 Ha * 2/ML = 3, 200 GL). This is unrealistic but highlights that net total on-farm investment must increase, thus increasing farm debt.

When water is returned to the environment under the RtB, not only does it provide the capacity for irrigators to adapt, pay down debt and stay in irrigation but it improves the overall farm equity of those that still own water. The Government had two policy levers. It has chosen the one that ensures that in next policy battle in the Basin will be on restructuring loans when the inevitable drought comes.”

David Adamson, Risk and Sustainable Management Group, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

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On the Great Barrier Reef

“The $200 million extension to the reef rescue program is a wise expenditure of public funds. The key to the most efficient delivery will be combining world class decision support with ecosystem modelling so the funds can target those places that deliver the highest return on investment for reef health. The Australian Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions has recently published research in the area of cost-effective forest protection for reef protection using a case study in Fiji. That research can be transferred to Australia.”

”However, it is ironic that, at a time when the federal government is investing in the reef, the QLD state government is weakening laws to protect native vegetation. An increase in land clearing in QLD, in particular a reduction in protection for riparian areas, will counteract this new investment.”

Dr Hugh Possingham FAA, Ecology Centre, University of Queensland and Distinguished Visiting Environmental Scholar at Yale University